Fighting through pain

"We need to pick our heads up, implement our fundamentals, and get the mindset that we can go back to SUNYAC," said Rachael Raffa, the leading point scorer for the Oswego State women’s lacrosse team this season.

Raffa’s insistence on improvement and effort are coming at the right time. The Lakers are in the midst of a three-game losing streak, which has pushed the Lakers under .500. The Lakers have been outscored in their last three games, 48-17.

What has Raffa even more frustrated than the losses is her inability to play at 100 percent. Raffa has been dealing with a tight hamstring that she first injured last season.

"I originally injured the hamstring in the fourth game of last season," Raffa said. "I sat out several games before coach and I decided to try and get me back out there. I just couldn’t play on the injury and I actually hurt myself more by trying to come back. I just had to try and play again."

Raffa found it particularly tough watching from the sidelines most of last season.

"I have never been injured before and I have always played sports year round," Raffa said. "Sitting on the bench all last season and then being sidelined with the injury in the offseason is something I never want to get used too."

Raffa was a three-sport varsity star, playing soccer, track and lacrosse at Kings Park High School in Kings Park, N.Y. According to Raffa, Oswego State could have gotten use to her playing on the soccer fields.

"I always loved soccer," Raffa said. "I played it year round: school ball, travel leagues and summer leagues. Unfortunately, it became more like a responsibility than a passion."

Raffa indicated that lacrosse attracted her immediately because of her style of play and ability as an attacker.

"Lacrosse allows me to be explosive," Raffa said. "So much of soccer is speed, but in lacrosse it’s more about movement. Movement opens up a lot of opportunities if you know when and where to attack."

Raffa took her talents to the lacrosse fields of Oswego State, where she did not skip a beat. During her freshman season, Raffa finished second on the team in goals, assists and points. The 2009 Lakers team set the all-time school record for points and goals in a season, something Raffa attributes to head coach Brandi Ostrander.

"Getting comfortable with a new team takes time, but coach was so motivating and helped the team come together early in the year," Raffa said.

Despite historic offensive numbers, the 2009 team fell short of the playoffs after finishing the regular season on a two-game losing streak. Raffa recounted that the hardest part for that team was knowing that they left unfinished business on the table.

"It was tough knowing we had such a good team and coach did such a good job in her first year," Raffa said. "We fell short of our goals that season."

Additionally, last season’s 1-7 record in conference pushed the Lakers outside of the playoffs again. Raffa knows how important it is for the team to turn its fortunes around in 2011, and her teammates recognize how important Raffa is to their team’s post season chances.

"Rachael’s always looking out for her teammates, either telling them how to improve a certain aspect of their playing, or complimenting them on hard work," said freshman defender Elise Tartaglia. "She is also a very smart player on the field, which rubs off on the rest of the team. Rachael is definitely one of our key players, both on and off the field.

Despite the 2-3 record, Raffa’s numbers have never been better. As of April 4, Raffa was the second leading goal scorer per game in the SUNYAC. She also sits in the top five for points per game, as well as top ten for assists per game in the conference. The most impressive part of these stats are that Raffa is still playing through pain everyday.

"I am still not at 100 percent, but I have had to learn how to play hurt," said Raffa. "I know how to move on it and I can move on it, so I am going to play."

"Rachael has such a strong influence on the team, and it just wouldn’t be the same without her," Tartaglia said.

But for Raffa, it is never been about the stats. She simply wants to play and get better with her teammates.

"My individual goal is to get my teammates involved as much as possible," Raffa said. "Whether that means finishing a play with a goal, or assisting on a goal, I want to make our team as motivated as possible to play tough."